Algiers - Mali's government and Tuareg-led rebels on Thursday signed an agreement for a roadmap toward securing a broader peace deal to end decades of uprisings in the north.
Mali's vast northern desert region - called Azawad by the Tuareg rebels - has risen up four times in the last 50 years, with various groups fighting for independence or self-rule.
The roadmap calls for negotiations to work out "questions of substance" between 17 Aug and 11 Sept. before a second round in October to discuss areas such as security, reconciliation and humanitarian issues. A final peace agreement will be signed in Mali, but the roadmap gives no date for that last step.
"I hope this will lead us to a lasting peace. You have our guarantee that we will meet our commitments," Mali Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop said, speaking to rebel groups after the signing ceremony in Algiers.
Unrest in the West African country continues even after troops from its former colonial ruler France intervened last year to drive back Islamists who had taken advantage of the latest Tuareg-led rebellion.
Mali's government has said it has ruled out any independence or full autonomy for the northern region, but is open to negotiations over devolving more authority over local affairs to the region. Tuareg and Arab rebel groups in the north have long accused governments in the south of neglecting their region.
Three main rebel groups - the Tuareg MNLA and High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), as well as the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) - have sought to unify their positions, but there are divisions within the different Tuareg factions and between Tuareg and Arab separatist groups.
Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was elected last year partly for his reputation for taking a firm stand against previous uprisings. He is under pressure from the more densely populated south not to give in to rebel demands.